Football

SANTO'S AIM: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION

As ambitious as he is, Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo admits that it will be tough to break the stranglehold Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have on La Liga.

So the target for the six-time La Liga champions is securing a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.

"The (La Liga) title, for us, is not now," said Santo, who was in Singapore together with Valencia team captain Dani Parejo and striker Rodrigo Moreno the last two days to meet prospective new owner Peter Lim.

"We can achieve big things, but we should go step by step. Our goal is (to qualify for) the Champions League.

"Of course, we cannot lose ambition; we will fight every game, and we are strong enough, I believe, to win many matches."

With Atletico, Barca and Real almost guaranteed of finishing in the top three, Valencia face a stiff challenge for that coveted fourth spot.

"We have a big fight for fourth place with Villarreal, (Athletic) Bilbao, and Sevilla, who won the Europa League last season," said Santo.

"But there is no other way for us. With the history we have and what we are trying to achieve, we have to finish in the top four."

Founded in 1919, Valencia have amassed 20 major European and Spanish trophies, including six La Liga titles, seven Spanish Cups, three Uefa Cups, and one European Cup Winners' Cup.

They are also the only club to have reached the Champions League final twice in a row in 2000 and 2001, when they lost to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively.

Los Che's progress has stagnated in recent years due to financial problems, but they are dreaming of a revival with Singaporean businessman Lim set to officially take over the club in a few weeks' time.

And the early signs are promising.

Valencia are lying joint-second on four points behind Barcelona in the Spanish league, after drawing 1-1 away to Sevilla on the opening day before beating Malaga 3-0 at home last Friday.

And they strengthened their squad on transfer deadline day on Monday, when Spain striker Alvaro Negredo joined from Manchester City on a season-long loan deal.

Negredo (below) becomes the third striker on Valencia's books, alongside Portuguese starlet Rodrigo Moreno and Spanish international Paco Alcacer.

Delighted with the squad additions this season, team captain and midfielder Dani Parejo said that there is an air of optimism in the club.

"Every season, before we start, there is always a lot of hope for Valencia," said the 31-year-old.

"But, this year, the fans are even more hopeful. The players know we can win a trophy this season; we definitely want to do that for our fans."